Daily Harvest, a plant-based meal delivery company, has been known for years for its prominent social media presence and influencer marketing that has helped build its brand.
The risks of this influencer strategy became clear when the New York-based company recalled its French lentil and leek crumbles in June after hundreds of people said the product was making them sick. Some influencers who previously promoted the company’s products criticized Daily Harvest after they said they ate the sprinkles and then got sick.
Luke Pearson told his 80,000 followers on Instagram that he had his gallbladder removed after becoming nauseous from eating crumbles.
“It changed my life forever,” he said, adding, “Daily Harvest needs to be held accountable.”
Daily Harvest, a private company founded in 2015, sells plant-based meals, smoothies and other products that customers can quickly prepare. The company said one of the ingredients in the crumbles, tara flour, was at the root of the problem. Tara flour, which is made from legumes, is not often used in foods but is sometimes added as a source of protein.
The company said after recalling the product that it had received about 470 reports “of illness or side effects.”
Daily Harvest didn’t disclose how the sprinkles had made people sick, but the Food and Drug Administration said people who ate the sprinkles complained of gastrointestinal and liver function problems.
The company had sent Mr. Pearson a free box of meals with the sprinkles and asked him to rate and post about it, his attorney Jeffrey Bowersox said. Mr. Pearson didn’t sign a deal with Daily Harvest, which companies sometimes ask influencers to do.
Shortly after he first ate the sprinkles in May, he developed stomach pain and other symptoms. A week later, he ate the sprinkles again and within an hour developed a fever, chills and abdominal pain, the lawsuit said.
Luke Pearson told his Instagram followers that he had his gallbladder removed after becoming nauseous from eating crumbles.
Photo: Kelsey Pearson
His doctors thought a gallstone was spiking his enzymes, so they removed his gallbladder to prevent a similar incident from happening again, according to the lawsuit. Mr Pearson would not have had to have his gallbladder removed, the lawsuit said, if Daily Harvest had immediately given the people who ate the sprinkles an accurate description of the symptoms some consumers were experiencing. According to the lawsuit, had the company done so, Mr. Pearson could have told his doctors about it.
A Daily Harvest representative did not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“I would like to personally apologize to everyone affected by this,” Rachel Drori, Daily Harvest’s founder and chief executive officer, wrote on the company’s website in July.
The crumbles, which once cost $9.79 for three servings, were no longer available on Daily Harvest’s website as of Friday. Daily Harvest launched the crumbles in April as a topping for its plant-based dishes.
Daily Harvest, like many other companies ranging from small startups to large public companies, has adopted influencer marketing to reach customers who spend more time on social media than reading magazines or watching TV.
Businesses can target specific audiences by building relationships with specific influencers who are trusted by their followers, said Mae Karwowski, founder and chief executive officer of Obvious, an influencer marketing agency.
Influencers can make careers on social media, often earning solid revenue from corporate sponsorships in exchange for promotional posts. Businesses hope that followers who trust an influencer will, in turn, buy the promoted product or service.
Ms Karwowski, who is not affiliated with Daily Harvest, said the company should have been better at handling crisis communications with the influencers it works with.
“A lot of influencers were the first to try this product,” she said. “You should have phoned these people.”
When asked if the company had contacted influencers, a company spokesman referred to a message Daily Harvest posted on its website on June 19, days before the company recalled the sprinkles. Ms Drori wrote that the company has already told customers not to eat the product.
Daily Harvest said it no longer sources its French lentil and leek crumbles, as shown on its website, from the tara flour producer it had.
“We took immediate steps to address what we heard from customers and reached out to each person who received French Lentil + Leek Crumbles,” she wrote.
Daily Harvest has sent out free lunch boxes to influencers, who in turn can post about their products. A company spokesman said Daily Harvest tries to reach a wide audience through mediums such as television advertising, direct mail, podcasts and influencer marketing.
According to court filings, at least four lawsuits have been filed against the company in US courts in recent weeks on behalf of people who have become ill after eating the crumbles. This includes the lawsuit filed on behalf of influencer Mr. Pearson.
It remains to be seen whether other influencers will make negative comments about the company. The setback so far shows that relying on influencers to endorse a product can be difficult.
One such lawsuit was filed this month in New York County Supreme Court against Daily Harvest on behalf of a 4-month-old girl. Her mother breastfed her after eating the sprinkles, the lawsuit said, and then “the girl presented with symptoms that included abdominal pain, headache, gastrointestinal distress, fever, and vomiting.”
The Daily Harvest representative did not comment on pending litigation.
Ms Drori, the company’s CEO, said Daily Harvest is “no longer sourcing” from the tara flour producer. She did not reveal the producer.
The FDA announced last month that it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to investigate complaints about the crumb.
More than 270 people had reported feeling sick from the crumbs by mid-July, the FDA said, including 96 who said they were hospitalized. An agency spokeswoman last week did not name the supplier who made the tara flour, saying the FDA is still testing samples.
Abby Silverman, who has more than 115,000 TikTok followers, was one of the influencers who said she received “a PR package” from Daily Harvest and then fell ill after eating the crumbles.
Ms Silverman didn’t respond to requests for comment, but she did warn people to throw away their sprinkles in a video that has been viewed around 1.3million times on TikTok.
“I’m not the type to set fire to a brand,” she said, “but this is really, really serious.”
Daily Harvest did not comment on Ms Silverman’s video.
Write to Alyssa Lukpat at [email protected]
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